UAB creates gout research center

It's been called "the disease of kings", but gout affects two percent of Americans. A number that's expected to grow as the U.S. population ages.

Gout is a form of arthritis, caused by uric acid build-up in the blood and typically forms around the "big toe".

Uric acid is created when breaking down purines. Purines already occur naturally in your body.{} However, certain foods, including organ meats and veggies like asparagus can cause them as well.

Through research, the University of Alabama at Birmingham hopes to discover new ways to treat gout.

Andrew Simon describes living with gout and the feeling it creates in his right foot.

"You know how you feel when your leg falls asleep? that numbness and tingling? take that and concentrate it into one small part of your body," says Simon. "It's tender, it hurts, there's no doubt about it."Despite having a family history of the disease, it took years for Simon to finally be diagnosed. "It's one of those things where you think you know what's wrong with you, but you don't really know. When I went to the clinic I was able to get a true diagnosis," Simon says. "I was trying to live with it and by not living with it and getting care has made all the difference in the world." Simon now manages his pain through medication, changes in diet and treatment from his specialist, Dr. Kenneth Saag."Gout can form in any joint in the body. The most common place to see it is in the feet in the great toe, but it can cause swelling, arthritis in the knee, in the wrist, almost any place in the body," Saag explains. "Over time, it can cause damage to the joints, damage to the tissue of the joints, which is what we're trying to prevent with many of the therapies we're using and studying in this new research center."Saag is the director of the newly formed Center of Research Translation in Gout at UAB Hospital.

The center's focus is to improve the health of gout sufferers.

One problem not yet understood, is how the rise in uric acid has an impact on other health concerns. Saag says, "We know that gout is increasing in overall frequency due to an increase in obesity, people living longer with chronic illnesses and many medicines that can also contribute."

Dr. S. Louis Bridges, co-director of the center says genetics must be a big part of the research. "What I hope it will do is to better understand at a fine level of detail, what role genetics and diet play in causing the disease and hopefully being able to treat it or prevent it," says Bridges.For Andrew Simon, the clinic gives him reason to hope for a less painful future. "On the research side, having a group of patients that are being followed and then researched will help to ultimately lead to even some cure in the future," Simon says.

The center will be launching clinical trials of new medications for gout relatively soon. If anyone suffers from gout and is interested in participating, contact (205)-934-1444.